According to both Matthew and Mark, Jesus once cursed a fig tree. The accounts differ over whether it died immediately. Here's Matthew 21:18-20:
And here's Mark 11:12-14, and 11:19-21:
The natural reading of Matthew is that the fig tree withered there and then, right in front of them. What else does "at once" mean? Yet Mark says the disciples only see that the tree has withered a day later. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Matthew is altering the story to make Jesus seem more powerful.
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry suggests (among other explanations) that the fig tree showed immediate signs of withering (which the disciples in Matthew saw), but had only completely withered by the time the disciples saw it again the next day (in Mark). Yet this ignores the context of the verses. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus uses the withered fig tree to explain that all things are possible through faith. This makes it fairly clear that there was only one occasion on which the disciples noted the withered tree. Matthew and Mark are both talking about that occasion.
Looking Unto Jesus and Tektonics both suggest that the tree died at once but the disciples only noticed it the next day. This doesn't work at all, since the disciples in Matthew say "How did the fig tree wither at once?" indicating they saw it immediately.
The New International Version translates Matthew 21:18-20 as follows:
You see how this opens up the possibility that the disciples saw the withered tree later, rather than immediately. However, I have looked up the actual Greek text, and the word which the ESV translates as "at once" is exactly the same in both verses: parachrema. So the NIV's translation is suspect - they translate parachrema as "immediately" the first time, but "quickly" the second time.
The Resurgence Greek Project agrees with the ESV that the correct translation is something like "on the spot, forthwith, straight away" (you can mouse-over Greek words on that website to see the translation).
(To be fair, the dubious translation isn't unique to the NIV, and might simply be an attempt by the translators to avoid the clumsy but accurate translation "How did the fig tree wither at once?" which sounds a bit odd in English.)
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